1. The first elections for illiterate people in Peru

The Constituent Assembly that elaborated a new Constitution for the country in 1979 established the right and obligation to elect mayors democratically, and in added a novelty: for the first time a Peruvian norm legislated the right for illiterate people to participate in elections. Mainly the participation of peasants, who were a large part of this group.

In 1980, the first political election after 11 years of military government, accompanies the onset of two very complicated and troubled decades. The beginning of a democratic life was a turning point amidst a debacle that was channeled into a sustained democratic process long after 2001.

On May 17th 1980, with the burning of electoral ballot boxes, ballot papers and electoral rolls in the District of Chuschi, Ayacucho and an assault on the Electoral Registration Offices by the Shining Path terrorist group, an “armed conflict” was set off. Such events generated an internal war that claimed thousand of victims. Amidst this, an autocratic regime was established between 1992 and 2000, under the leadership of a democratically elected president in 1990, Alberto Fujimori. This evidenced that the country was not ready for a proper democratic regime, and even in 2016 a poll has demonstrated that 80% of the population believes that democracy has little or no importance.

In the District of Ocongate, -located in the Province of Quispicanchis, Cusco; near the Q’ero community, where I lived and worked between 1980 and 1987- we intensively encouraged and strengthened voting for peasants in the 1980 elections. We soon realized that the rural population did not have a Libreta Electoral -personal identification document used in Peru at the time-, although the State Registry Office of the Peruvian Sate visited the district capital to provide them with the document. A photo (identity card size) was needed, which meant travelling to the nearest town and returning to pick it up. This possibility would generally exceed the peasant’s family budget.

At that moment we realized that something as simple as a photo could literally change the world of the peasants in Ocongate. We began taking photos of hundreds of people, both for the general elections in 1980 and municipal elections in 1983. Our studio was set up with a white sheet as a backdrop in the market of Ocongate. With a 35 mm camera and making contactsheets for ID size photos, we contributed for hundred of peasants to obtain their Libreta Electoral (ID Card).

In this simple manner and under these types of circumstances, photography can be used as a direct tool for the service of communities and at the same time a political tool. This was our conclusion and the beginning of what we were seeking for our future project.

In 1990, elections at the municipal level changed the correlation of political and social forces completely, in many places of the Peruvian countryside. Before, tradesmen and professionals were named or elected among themselves; now for more than two decades, thousands of peasants elect the mayors of their convenience, their origin and their culture. In Ocongate at the beginning of 2000, a “rural mayor” came about whose proposals for work and development were oriented towards the requirements of the field, with a cultural identity significantly Quechua.[1]

[1] See Raúl H. Asencio. Los nuevos incas. La economía política del desarrollo rural andino en Quispicanchi (2016; Lima: IEP).